Charity fights economic gloom

A STANNINGTON-BASED autism charity is aiming to help even more children as it continues to battle through tough economic times.

The Toby Henderson Trust had to cancel many of its evening activities last winter because of a big increase in heating oil costs.

Since then, it has seen a rise in unprompted funding support from businesses and organisations and last summer it received a donation of £9,950 from The 1989 Willan Charitable Trust to buy a static caravan tailored to suit the needs of young people with the condition and their families.

Now project director Lesley Henderson is hoping for further success as it would enable her to employ an extra specialist worker at its facility in the Whitehouse Farm Centre premises.

“The caravan project is going very well and we’re fully booked for all the holiday periods this year,” she said.

“We’ve had excellent support from businesses, including the Morpeth branch of White Stuff, which is doing a range of fund-raising activities, and there has been a notable increase in telephone calls out of the blue from individuals and organisations to say they have done something to collect money for us.

“Our general financial position is about the same as last year and like other charities we’re fighting hard for grant money, that’s why we were so delighted to get the caravan funding.

“But we remain optimistic and I’m frantically making applications so we can pay for another worker at our centre to help meet the demand for our services.

“If we’re able to bring this person in, we can cater for an extra 14 people and a further 18 in group situations.”

The charity was formed in 1999 by Mrs Henderson and her husband Jim after they discovered their youngest son, Toby, had autism. The specialist centre opened in November 2001. It provides a range of practical hands-on services to youngsters with the condition and their families.

Its latest accolade was a community service award from the Rotary Club of Wansbeck.

Toby recently turned 18 and the couple have seen a dramatic improvement in his behaviour since he started attending Northern Counties School in Newcastle. They are hoping that he can stay there for another year and are in discussions with Northumberland County Council.

Mrs Henderson added: “There has been more recognition in recent years that people with autism need specialist support, but we still live in a judgemental world and that’s why education and awareness of the condition remains an important issue.”